Mr Porter Eats
Seven Reasons To Ditch The Turkey
London’s best restaurants are serving up everything from suckling pigs to venison kormas. Time to change the menu?
Oysters with Châteaux Toulouse jelly. Photograph courtesy of Pétrus
Christmas, traditionally, is pale, dry and shaped like a turkey. How this rather unprepossessing bird known only for its arid flesh and unattractive countenance annexed the most magical time of the year is unclear. One supposes it is because they grow quite large. But then again so do rhinoceroses. Either way, it is a missed trick.
There are so many meats, fowls and game birds that are better suited to making your family or friends happy over Christmas. Chefs have known this for years and are forever emitting pained oaths on sight of a turkey. London’s finest restaurants mostly omit it from their Christmas feasting menus altogether (although, if you are a fan, use our guide to cooking the spot-on turkey). So, we loosened our belts and travelled the length and breadth of the capital to find the best alternative Christmas feasts in the city.
Gul & Sepoy
Three birds Awadhi korma. Photograph courtesy of Gul & Sepoy
Forget the turkey and endless legs of hams. For a really creative feast, look a bit further afield. Gul & Sepoy opened last month on Commercial Street and has already garnered a devoted following – and it’s not hard to see why. Founded by Mr Harneet and Ms Devina Baweja, who also run the popular Gunpowder, it specialises in pairing “the royal flavours of the Raj palaces with the regional specialities of the southwest coast”. The idea is to explore the full breadth of Indian cooking, and no more so than with its Christmas feast, which starts with a three-bird Awadhi korma, whole tandoori sea bream, burnt achari cauliflower potato and a wild berry and lavender kheer. A feast fit for a raja.
What to wear
Ballotine of foie gras, mead and toasted brioche. Photograph courtesy of Pétrus
Mr Gordon Ramsay has nearly as many stars as the heavens. But even in his Michelin-heavy world, Pétrus stands apart. A jewel box of a restaurant, it is housed off the eminently Christmassy Motcomb Street in Belgravia and is the avowed stomping ground of plutocrats and princes. As you can perhaps imagine, it does not flinch from delicious excess at this time of year. The festive lunch, devised by head chef Mr Larry Jayasekara and served every day until 2 January, is a feast that would please a fin de siècle French aristocrat. Start with foie gras parfait or agnollotti of halibut brandade, then there is a choice of mains, including a slow-roast barbarie duck, and then a milk chocolate crémeux dessert. Plus, the sommelier is a genius with surprising matches, such as a dry Hungarian tokaji. If you want a festive shot in the arm, this is the place to get it.
What to wear
Mulled Christmas fruit falooda. Photograph courtesy of Gymkhana
The Michelin-starred Indian restaurant in Mayfair has been packed to the rafters since it opened in 2013. No surprise there. As The Observer restaurant critic Mr Jay Rayner said, “eating there is an education”. And a tasty one at that. If there are six or more of you, you can avail yourselves of its almost-never-ending festive menu. Beginning with cassava and lentil papads, going on to samosa papdi chat, then lasooni wild tiger prawns, plus venison shank korma and lamb shanks biryani, served with dal maharani, patiala baingan masala and dahi bhalla. And that is all topped off with mulled fruit falooda. Certainly beats a boiled ham, though you might want to book a Barry’s Bootcamp class for the following morning.
What to wear
Slow-cooked salmon with puffed barley and apple and fennel miso. Photograph courtesy of Chiltern Firehouse
Four years after opening, Chiltern Firehouse still draws the stars like filings to a magnet. Indeed, the new-look British Vogue hosted its Christmas party there last week. If you are a large group (up to 10 at the Kitchen Table or as many as 12 in the Garden Room), you can take the Firehouse Feasts menu for a spin. It is a menu so large and capacious, starting with venison roll, steak tartare, a side of salmon and reaching a dénouement with chargrilled iberico pork, duck or rib of beef, that to reproduce it in all its lengthy majesty here would be to use my entire word count in one fell swoop. This may be the haunt of supermodels, but this menu has very un-supermodel portions. Go for lunch and skip dinner.
What to wear
Suckling pig. Photograph courtesy of Brindisa
Brindisa’s restaurants have been doling out Spanish cheer to jaded Londoners for more than a decade now and have seldom missed a beat over all that time. To dine in each is to experience unalloyed joy. Especially at Christmas, when the main event of the Rupert Street branch’s festive menu is a whole suckling pig from Segovia, which is roasted over an open flame of a traditional asador grill, until it reaches a peak of crisp-skinned succulence, and is served with winter vegetables and picoteos. Before that, though, you can go to town on the specially curated charcuterie board – including a very fine wild boar loin marinated in rosemary – and then finish things off with a Spanish cheeseboard, including goat’s milk-based cabrales paired with pear and dark chocolate and Valdeón Picos de Europa with quince. A trencherman’s daydream.
What to wear
The Quality Chop House
Grouse with trimmings. Photograph courtesy of The Quality Chop House
Oh, Quality Chop House, how we love you, with your wooden pews, Victorian-tiled interior and menu we want to marry. Once a “Progressive Working Class Caterer”, as the sign preserved within declares, it is a listed building, so its interior can never change. Its menu, like its sturdy wooden seats, is unfailingly dependable. Since it reopened in 2012 under the wise, civilised leadership of chef Mr Shaun Searley, it has become something of a foodie haven, specialising in olde-worlde dishes cooked heartily and without folderol. For Christmas, there are family-style starters – potato croquettes (to rival roasties), smoked cod roe and beetroot and gin-cured salmon – then a choice of blackface lamb, Hereford beef and middle white pork, turkey, and a sticky date Christmas pudding. It is the sort of place you can imagine Scrooge taking Tiny Tim after his visitation, and for that we love it.
What to wear
Dinner By Heston
Christmas plum meat fruit. Photograph by Mr John Carey, courtesy of Dinner by Heston
Before he opened Dinner by Heston, Mr Heston Blumenthal was primarily known for his whizz-bang, bleeding-edge molecular gastronomy. He liked gases and dry ice and all the rest. With Dinner, though, he started consciously looking to the past for future inspiration – that’s why many of his dishes have a date next to them, as that supposedly denotes when the recipe is from. As always with this culinary master, there is a little sleight of hand going on. They may look antiquated, but his dishes are conceived with the most modern techniques. So, at your Christmas party, expect the likes of meat fruit (1500) – a chicken liver parfait made to look like a plum – powdered duck breast (1850) and cod in cider (1940). A witty menu from a witty man.